For the first time, investments in renewable energy plants are ahead of that for fossil fuels, attracting $187 billion last year compared with $157 billion for natural gas, oil and coal, reports Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
The analysis is based on new plants (not replacing existing ones) and excludes large hydro projects.
Accelerating installations of solar and wind plants are leading to lower equipment prices, making clean energy more competitive with coal.
"The progress of renewables has been nothing short of remarkable," says UN Environment Program Executive Secretary Achim Steiner. "You have record investment in the midst of an economic and financial crisis."
Also for the first time, investments in developing countries, mostly China, exceeded those in advanced nations.
The wind industry is expected to install 43 gigawatts (GW) of new capacity this year and 48 GW next year, up from 36 GW in 2010, according to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC).
And global solar installations will total 26.4 GW this year and and 27.8 GW in 2012, up from 18.2 GW last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy.
Investment in renewable energy could double to $395 billion a year by 2020, led by growth in offshore wind and solar projects.
The wind-energy industry is now more focused on the "sometimes bewildering variety of domestic and regional policies" than on the UN negotiations as a source of impetus for growth, says Steve Sawyer, secretary-general of GWEC.
But financial austerity and the EU debt crisis will cut subsidies and tax credits $45 billion over the next five years, forecasts Ernst & Young.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) projects that renewable energy will grow from today’s 4% of global energy supplies to 14% by 2035, while fossil fuels decline from today’s share of 75% to 62%.
Meanwhile, U.S. exports of oil-based fuels – gasoline, diesel, jet fuel – are soaring this year – the country could be a net exporter for the first time in 62 years, reports the IEA.
Emerging markets are soaking up demand while the US is using less oil than we’re producing.